Debussy disapproved of Nijinsky's 1912 choreography for Prélude à “L'Après-midi d'un faune,” perceiving dissonance between his fluid melodies and Nijinsky's angular, two-dimensional poses. Because of the patent differences between the music and choreography, commentary on the work has focused primarily on what makes the ballet and music distinct instead of how the ballet might transform our reading of the music; but the Faune ballet is best identified as an adaptation of Debussy's music in which the music is made to tell Nijinsky's version of Debussy's story. As an adaptation, Nijinsky's ballet creates a context that affords a fresh encounter with Debussy's work in a different medium, resetting our understanding, making new interpretations possible, and thus continuing the music's narrative legacy by varying its appearance.
Nijinsky's notation of the dance reflects his novel conception of corporeal movement for the ballet, in which the planes of the body are dislocated from traditional organic formations in order to face constantly outward and to move in grooves along the stage. The dominating imagery of dislocation resonates with the polymetric climax in the B section of Debussy's work, which treats the orchestra like a body in pluralistic motion as it establishes a newly eclectic order of movement. Nijinsky's scenario provides a narrative framework to explain the implications of the polymetric event for the subsequent musical plot. The physicality of Debussy's work, which is also highlighted in Ravel's piano transcription, comes to the foreground of the ballet at a moment of crisis: in Nijinsky's story, the B section contains the only touch between faun and nymph as well as their tragic separation, which leads to the faun's emotional instability. This context renders Debussy's polymetric climax a symbol of both fulfillment and loss that affects the return of A-section material, where the flute theme splits into conflicting expressive characters that mirror the faun's emotional vacillation. Undergirding these dissociated themes is a subtle polymeter, which remains as a symptom of the tragic climax.
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